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Stages of HIV Infection

Reviewed by
Date published
01/12/2020
Date last updated
30/11/2020
Length of read
6 Minutes

HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. This virus, first discovered in 1981, attacks the CD4 T-cells of your immune system --- making it weaker and unable to fight off opportunistic infections in the later phase of the disease. There is currently no cure for HIV but antiretroviral drugs are available to help control its spread and to enable you to live a happy, normal life.

In this blog post, we are going to talk about the different stages of HIV infection, taking into account the impact of early detection and treatment.

Stage 0. Acute HIV infection and the seroconversion phase

The seroconversion phase occurs during the first few weeks after getting infected with HIV. During this time, you experience flu-like symptoms like tiredness, fever, muscle aches, and swollen glands. Your body also starts producing antibodies for HIV during this period. The symptoms you feel during the seroconversion phase vary from one person to another. Some don’t experience any symptoms while others are severe. This stage of HIV infection lasts between two to three weeks.

The seroconversion phase is also referred to as Acute HIV infection --- dubbed as “Stage 0” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. You are most contagious during this stage as there are high levels of HIV in your body.

Impact of treatment:

Getting treatment during this stage will significantly strengthen your immune system. People who start taking antiretroviral drugs during this time go straight to the chronic stage of HIV infection.

Stage 1. Asymptomatic HIV infection

As the name suggests, this stage of HIV infection does not present any symptoms. Even if you are not taking any medications, your HIV infection will still enter this dormancy phase which could last for several years.

Even though you don’t exhibit any symptoms, the virus is still alive and active in your body. You can take a viral load test to see how fast the virus is replicating and a CD4 cell count to assess the health of your immune system.

Impact of treatment:

Starting HIV treatment during this stage is crucial. The earlier the better. People who begin antiretroviral therapy at this stage usually go straight to the chronic phase of the disease.

Stage 2. Symptomatic HIV infection

Without treatment, your CD4 count will begin to fall and opportunistic diseases will start taking its toll in your body and you will start experiencing signs of HIV. Some of the common symptoms of HIV at this stage include:

  • Weight loss
  • Joint pain
  • Thrush
  • Fatigue
  • Bacterial pneumonia
  • Night sweats
  • Persistent diarrhoea

Impact of treatment:

Most people are not even aware that they have HIV. So, many start getting checked when they begin experiencing symptoms of the disease. Diagnosis during this stage is known as late diagnosis, meaning, you already have HIV for many years, untreated.

But it’s not too late. You can still take HIV treatments at this stage and they will still be effective in lowering the amount of virus in your body and in strengthening your immune system. If you do, you go straight to the chronic stage of the disease --- skipping its most fatal phase.

Stage 3. Acquire immune deficiency syndrome

Advanced HIV disease or commonly known as AIDS is the most serious stage of HIV infection. During this period, your immune system has been significantly weakened and you are now very susceptible to opportunistic diseases like certain cancers, pneumonia, cryptococcal meningitis, and toxoplasmosis. Untreated, people with AIDS usually live for about 3 years. Once opportunistic illnesses come in, life expectancy drops to 1 year.

Impact of treatment:

Getting AIDS doesn’t mean death. Thanks to advances in modern medicine and healthcare, many patients who have AIDS-related illnesses recover from the disease and carry on to live with chronic HIV infection for the rest of their lives.

The chronic HIV stage

We are not counting the chronic HIV stage as Stage 4 in terms of the progression of the disease as this phase is only achieved with proper and effective HIV treatment. Chronic HIV stage means you will be living with a manageable HIV infection for a long time, perhaps, for the rest of your life.

People who receive proper health care and treatment will continue to live the rest of their lives and are less likely to die due to HIV-related illness. Those who started HIV treatment early and who regularly take proper HIV treatment are more likely to have the same life expectancy as those who don’t have an HIV infection.

Final Thoughts

With the right treatment, an HIV infection can be effectively managed so you can live a healthy, happy life. Like most diseases, early detection is key so you can get the right treatment right away and stop the disease from creating more damage.

A HIV test kit is one of the best and simplest ways to know if you have HIV or not. Express Pharmacy’s BioSure HIV testing kit is 99.7% accurate in detecting HIV. If you are a high-risk individual, get yourself tested for HIV in the comfort of your home. Order today and we’ll deliver the HIV test kit discreetly right at your doorstep.